On January 27, the Mississippi River was polluted with oil when a barge carrying more than 8,000 gallons of it struck a railroad bridge in Vicksburg, Miss. The sheen of crude kept the waterway shut to ship traffic. Cleanup crews rushed to clean up the mess the following day, and are continuing to skim oily water off the river.
"We don't have an estimate or accurate amount of what was released," said Lt. Ryan Gomez of the Memphis, Tenn. Coast Guard office. Reportedly, however, an oily sheen was spotted as far as three miles downriver of Vicksburg.
A second barge hit the bridge with the first, and was heavily damaged, though oil has not leaked from it. Both barges were being pulled by the towboat Nature's Way Endeavor when the disaster happened.
The spill is only the latest issue for the Mississippi River, which is currently at low levels due to the historic drought in the Midwest (an impact of climate change), which may have created conditions that contributed to the accident. This is also not the first time an oil spill has tainted the river and closed a portion of its waterways. In 2008, 283,000 gallons of oil were spilled when a fuel barge collided with a tanker and broke in half, closing the river for six days.
Coast Guard spokesman John Lally claimed that this incident caused no visible signs of negative environmental impact so far. "We did have a Coast Guard helicopter crew fly for 60 miles up the shoreline there to see if they could spot any environmental impact, and they weren't able to find anything."
This disaster, at any rate, has proven to be just one more in a history's worth of reasons why concerned environmentalists are shunning fossil fuels. Greenpeace noted that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 is still fresh in peoples' minds, and stated, "The root cause of [that] disaster is the world's addiction to fossil fuels. Without an energy revolution, disasters like this are bound to happen again."
Photo: The towboat Nature's Way Endeavor, as seen on the western bank of the Mississippi River. Eli Baylis/AP